7 Novels For Living Out Your Cottagecore Fantasies

From The Literary Hub:

Growing up, I fell in love with the cottagecore coziness of Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End, the Weasley’s ramshackle and magical Burrow, and the eclectic Victorian ephemera in Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street. I agonized endlessly over design choices in The Sims, using cheat codes to get the much-needed Simoleons for my champagne tastes. But in the last couple of years I’ve seen more of my own four walls than I ever thought I would. And like many of us, I’ve found myself reaching for refuge in joyful, light-hearted books more than ever before.

Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I’m still so drawn to cozy (and not so cozy) houses in fiction, but it’s hard to not recognize the power that “home” has over us. I take comfort in the solace (and, sometimes, menace) they represent for the main character. In my new novel, The Shaadi Set-Up, it should be no surprise that a house plays a pivotal role: two exes have to work together to flip a gorgeous, if slightly tumbledown, beach house on a little island off the North Carolina coast. The renovated house, just like their relationship, is built stronger the second time around.

No matter which is your cup of tea, I hope you’ll find at least one fictional abode here that makes you want to kick up your feet and linger for a while.

Sarah Hogle, Twice Shy

The main character inherits a once-grand house in the Smokies that she must share with a co-beneficiary. Even amidst all the clutter, the house represents their hopes and dreams for the future in an utterly charming, totally wholesome way. Secret rooms, treasure maps, and a vast property to explore: a property like this would be a dream for weathering the pandemic.

Talia Hibbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown

A woman reluctantly accepts a job as a chef at a storybook-charming bed and breakfast in the picturesque Lake District after accidentally injuring the B&B’s grumpy owner… and then falls in love with him. This book is a perfect staycation read, set in a house you’ll never want to leave. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Can Salman Rushdie and Substack Revive Serialized Fiction?

From The New Republic:

Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize–winning novelist, insists that he is not, like so many media members before him, going to Substack—at least not full-time. He won’t be publishing his next book on the newsletter platform. Instead, he’s taken an advance from the company to fool around with “whatever comes into” his head. This will apparently include a serialized novella. “I think that new technology always makes possible new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age,” Rushdie told The Guardian. “Whatever the new thing is that’s going to arise out of this new world, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

“People have been talking about the death of the novel, almost since the birth of the novel,” he continued. “But the actual, old fashioned thing, the hardcopy book, is incredibly, mutinously alive. And here I am having another go, I guess, at killing it.”

Rushdie isn’t wrong. The physical book has, somewhat improbably, maintained its supremacy in the digital age. Unlike the DVD or CD, nothing has truly emerged to threaten the analog; the printed page hasn’t yet had to make a “vinyl comeback.” At the same time, the book has hardly adapted to the internet age at all. Whatever the genre, books are simply not at all different than they were a few years ago, and no one seems particularly bothered about it. Not too long ago, there was a brief push to embrace things like QR codes to unlock digital supplementary material, but readers weren’t interested; the Kindle, meanwhile, is dominant among e-readers in large part because it so eerily replicates the feel of reading a physical book.

Yet it’s highly unlikely that Rushdie—or Substack—will plot the novel’s, let alone the book’s, next act. For years, people have been predicting that the internet would radically upend the future of literature, and yet, stubbornly, literature has refused to change. One reason for the book’s continued relevance is that it remains a surprisingly robust and effective piece of technology in its own right—every effort to find its future only ends up reminding everyone about what it already does better than other mediums.

Less than 10 years ago, the consensus within much of the publishing industry was that the physical book was on its way out. Just as Napster had killed the CD and Netflix the DVD, Amazon’s Kindle, unveiled in late 2007, heralded a seismic change for a medium that had held sway for more than 500 years. The book had been slowly falling in the public’s estimation ever since people ran out of a movie theater, in 1896, thinking that a train was going to kill them.

By the late 2000s, the reasoned thinking was that the book was an inferior communication technology, about to be left behind by the startling array of digital entertainment options.

It didn’t seem like such a bad bet: Digital books would soon outpace physical ones. This change would, in turn, bring about a dramatic change in form. Writers were limiting themselves when thinking only in text: Why not explore audio and video? Why not turn the book into an immersive experience? Why not allow readers to interact with the story itself, turning any book into a Choose Your Own Adventure experience?

There were two big problems with this thinking. The first was that what many of these theorists were describing was not, in fact, a book. In many instances, what they were describing was closer to a video game: an experience in which readers guided a narrative with audiovisual dimensions. The oddest thing about reading many fevered imaginings of the future of the novel was that they had been played out in things like Metal Gear Solid. (My own favorite game series, The Witcher, is a rarity in the game world, as it’s based on a series of Polish short stories, suggesting that the literature-to-game pipeline is being curiously underexploited.) There was, moreover, no evidence that readers truly wanted to be overwhelmed by audio and video while reading: Many, in fact, were turning to books precisely to escape the information overload that defines life in the twenty-first century. As Lincoln Michel argued on his Substack, it turns out that people just like books, and print books in particular.

The second error that these media futurists made was overestimating how vulnerable the book was to digital technology. Many people, when they listen to music, like to jump around between artists: The iPod allowed them to do so seamlessly. Movies are consumed in one two-hour period, and most people don’t know what they want to watch before they sit down on the couch, a problem solved by Netflix. But most people read one book at a time—no one was lugging an entire library to the beach. A Kindle can store thousands of books, but who cares? Having an ocean of literature at your fingertips is neat, but it doesn’t change the time-tested user experience of reading in a dramatic way.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Needless to say, PG disagrees about ebooks vs. printed books.

As he’s mentioned before, he will occasionally purchase a printed book for one reason or another, but always regrets it later. Even a single not-very-fat printed book is more trouble for him than an ebook. A 600-800 page printed book is a horror to read.

Happily for the overall welfare of humanity not everybody is like PG.

PG himself would not like to live in a world of other PG’s. He cherishes the amazing variety of people he interacts with and is quite happy that they are different, even much different than he is.

Plus, the idea of a female PG makes him shudder.

Nine Years Ago, I Speculated that Dewey’s Days Were Numbered. How Far Have We Come?

From School Library Journal:

Almost a decade ago, my colleagues and I wrote an article for SLJ entitled “Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?” in which we made the argument that the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system had lost its relevance. We took a bold stance, and the backlash was swift. Fellow librarians would wait outside the rooms I was speaking in at conferences, backing me into corners to demand that I stop talking about alternative systems.

At the time, we focused on creating better, more fluent access for children and modernizing a system that was created in the 19th century. It seems appropriate that today, an era when the status quo has been turned upside down by COVID and the racial justice movement, I find myself once again looking at the Dewey system. In this time that has highlighted the vast inequalities and injustices in our country, are we going to continue to use a cataloging system that is steeped in the values and worldview of a racist, misogynistic anti-Semite?

In 2019, ALA approved a resolution to take Melvil Dewey’s name off of one of the organization’s top awards for librarians, because of his known history as a racist, anti-Semite, and sexual predator. The reason: “the behavior demonstrated for decades by Dewey does not represent the stated fundamental values of ALA in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

What message does that send our students? Are we suggesting that these groups of people can only be studied in relation to others, that their own history is not enough to stand on its own? Christians make up approximately 30 percent of the world’s religious population, yet they make up 90 percent of the 200s (religion.) The Dewey Decimal System is a perfect example of systemic racism, and we as librarians are perpetuating this harmful worldview in our libraries.

In a recent article in SLJ, many librarians commented about how weeding their collections allowed them to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. Collection development is the natural focus of many librarians when thinking about how to make our libraries more diverse. But how inclusive can we be if the system itself is exclusionary? Most of us put a lot of effort into collecting diverse, informative books that provide windows and mirrors. When we put those books on the shelf in an outdated system, it negates those very principles. Students searching for the 16 official languages of India find out that they are shoved into 495.9 (miscellaneous languages of southeast Asia.) There are twice as many people living in India as in all of Europe, but the message we send is crystal clear to our children that white, European people and their culture are the most important. Kids looking for LGBTQ+ nonfiction books find out that they are shelved next to prostitution and pornography. The understanding that their thoughts, their very identity, is wrong and immoral comes through loud and clear no matter what we might say to the contrary.

It’s striking to me that librarians aren’t applying our rigorous weeding criteria to the system itself. Dewey is outdated and obsolete, it is difficult to use, and it doesn’t resonate with our patrons, our values, or the world around us. The system codifies and upholds a white, male, Eurocentric, Christian, heteronormative, abled perspective.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

Why translators should be named on book covers

From The Guardian:

Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.” This quote, attributed to Israeli author Etgar Keret, proliferates in memes, and who doesn’t love a pithy quote involving ninjas? Yet this idea – that a literary translator might make, at any moment, a surprise attack, and that at every moment we are deceiving the reader as part of an elaborate mercenary plot – is among the most toxic in world literature.

The reality of the international circulation of texts is that in their new contexts, it is up to their translators to choose every word they will contain. When you read Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights in English, the words are all mine. Translators aren’t like ninjas, but words are human, which means that they’re unique and have no direct equivalents. You can see this in English: “cool” is not identical to “chilly”, although it’s similar. “Frosty” has other connotations, other usages; so does “frigid”. Selecting one of these options on its own doesn’t make sense; it must be weighed in the balance of the sentence, the paragraph, the whole, and it is the translator who is responsible, from start to finish, for building a flourishing lexical community that is both self-contained and in profound relation with its model.

Since I began an MFA in literary translation at the University of Iowa exactly 20 years ago, there have been numerous positive changes in the way translators are paid and perceived. Take the International Booker prize, which since 2016 has split the generous sum of £50,000 between author and translator, thereby genuinely recognising the work as a fundamentally collaborative entity that, like a child, needs two progenitors in order to exist.

Despite this type of extraordinary progress, there is ample room for improvement still. Often enough, translators receive no royalties – I don’t in the US for Flights – and a surprising number of publishers do not credit translators on the covers of their books. This is where the author’s name always goes; this is where you’ll find the title, too. People tend to be surprised when I mention this, but take another look at the International Booker, and you’ll see what I mean.

Since the 2016 launch of the redesigned prize, not one of the six winning works of fiction has displayed the translator’s name on the front. Granta didn’t name Deborah Smith there; Jonathan Cape didn’t name Jessica Cohen; Fitzcarraldo didn’t name me; Sandstone Press didn’t name Marilyn Booth; Faber & Faber didn’t name Michele Hutchison. At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, 2021’s winner from Pushkin Press, doesn’t name Anna Moschovakis on its cover, although its cover does display quotes from three named sources. Four names, in other words, on the cover of a book Moschovakis wrote every word of. But her name would have been too much.

The underlying assumption on the part of many publishers seems to be that readers don’t trust translators and won’t buy a book if they realise it’s a translation. Yet is it not precisely this type of ruse that breeds distrust, and not translation itself? What tends to encourage a reader to pick up an unfamiliar book is the thrilling feeling that they are about to embark upon an interesting journey with a qualified guide. In the case of translations, they get two guides for the price of one, an astonishing – an “astounding”, a “wonderful”, a “fantastic”, a “fabulous” – bargain.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Top 10 Party Girls in Literature

From Electric Lit:

From an age that was often too young to be anywhere, I found myself in closed-off rooms. They ranged from green rooms at concert halls to back rooms at parties. By the time I was 21, I had known my purpose in those spaces, how and why I was invited into them, and what was expected of me. I was a seasoned party girl who flitted in and out of metropolitan cities with seemingly few resources. People had seen me around. They would say, “Oh her, I’ve known her forever!”

The politics of the Party Girl have always been of interest to me, simply because of the way she moves within a world that warns her to be careful. To watch her behavior, her tone, her drink. She exists on a precipice of seeking out fun, when also too much fun, she’s warned, is dangerous. The prevailing image of the Party Girl has historically been white—of course, non-white Party Girls have existed, but how much space do we lend them in its canon? How much fun are they allowed to have? My characters come from a lineage of flappers, demimondaines, and society girls, where what unifies these archetypes is how they attempt to rise ranks with charm as their only currency.

. . . .

Mr. Right is Dead by Rona Jaffe

The titular novella in this collection follows a playgirl named Melba Toast who gathers men and gifts without a touch of malice, “She takes quick flights of fancy and quick flights across the country in quest of someone she had two dates with a month before.” The narrator is a willing accomplice to Melba’s schemes and comes to the realization that though she makes it look easy, a playgirl’s life is often hard work. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This list would be amiss without Holly Golightly. The glamorous call girl who left men wanting more. She has some of the best Party Girl pedigree—a secret marriage, a mob connection, and a casual grasp of French. I often find myself repeating her aperçus—“Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl’s complexion.” 

. . . .

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

After a long-term relationship detonates, Queenie Jenkins careens around London in a never-ending spiral of bad decisions and sexual foibles. Wrestling her mental health, heartbreak, and a prudent Jamaican British family, Queenie attempts the clumsy journey of trying to achieve independence through sexual encounters.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What is the Easiest Font to Read?

From The Book Designer:

If you’ve never formatted a book before, you might not know exactly how much work goes into it. It might seem easy and uniform—it just needs to look like a book, right?—but you’d be surprised just how many decisions you’ll need to make if you’re formatting on your own. Among the most important of these will be the font you choose for your book. 

Think of it like this: picking a bad font for your book is much like picking a bad cover. Even if you’ve got the best content in the world, a reader is much less likely to buy or read it if it looks cheaply or badly made. 

Let’s talk a little about fonts, why they matter, and how to pick the perfect one for your project. 

. . . .

What is the easiest font to read in a book?

So, before we talk about exactly which fonts to use, let’s go over some terminology. The first choice you’ll need to make is serif v. sans serif. What does that mean? 

Serif Fonts:

Serif fonts are those fonts with little ridges on them. Think Times New Roman or Georgia—the little feet and embellishments on certain letters make the words flow together in a way that isn’t confusing. It keeps the eye moving, basically. 

Sans-Serif Fonts:

A sans-serif font does exactly the opposite. These fonts don’t have these details on them, making the letters smooth and unconnected. Think Arial or Calibri. The space between letters makes each letter clearer, which can enhance readability. 

Generally, books are written in serif fonts because of how they lead the reader’s eye. Because the space between letters helps readability, sans serif fonts are generally reserved for large text editions of books. 

While there’s no solid consensus on exactly which font is the best for your book, a few popular choices are: Georgia, Tisa, Merriweather, and Rooney.

. . . .

You don’t want to stick out

When you’re picking a font for a book, you don’t want something that the reader is going to notice. You don’t want it to stick out as a strange choice—in something like a logo, you might want a memorable, notable font, but in a book, you want it to blend in.

Sometimes, on the copyright page of a book, the font will be listed with the other publication info. Check for this the next time you’re reading a physical book and see if you notice any patterns. Do fantasy books tend to stick to a certain font family? Do nonfiction books? Keep that info in mind when you go to pick out a font for yourself, so you’re picking something that will blend in without the reader even realizing it.

You want to stay on-theme

Picking a neutral font, or a font you’ve seen before, shouldn’t be a choice you make at random. While you don’t want your choice to be overt to the reader, you also want it to be intentional. 

We rarely think of words and letters as ‘images,’ but they are! And the way you choose to present your words will impact the way a reader thinks about the text, even if only in a very subtle way. You know how some people get flashbacks to college papers when they see Times New Roman? We want to avoid that. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The Publishing Ecosystem in the Digital Era

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IN 1995, I WENT to work as a writer and editor for Book World, the then-standalone book-review section of The Washington Post. I left a decade later, two years before Amazon released the Kindle ebook reader. By then, mainstream news outlets like the Post were on the ropes, battered by what sociologist John B. Thompson, in Book Wars, calls “the digital revolution” and its erosion of print subscriptions and advertising revenue. The idea that a serious newspaper had to have a separate book-review section seems quaint now. Aside from The New York Times Book Review, most of Book World’s competitors have faded into legend, like the elves departing from Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Their age has ended, though the age of the book has not.

Nobody arrives better equipped than Thompson to map how the publishing ecosystem has persisted and morphed in the digital environment. An emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Cambridge and emeritus fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, Thompson conducts his latest field survey of publishing through a rigorous combination of data analysis and in-depth interviews. Book Wars comes stuffed with graphs and tables as well as detailed anecdotes. The data component can get wearisome for a reader not hip-deep in the business, but it’s invaluable to have such thorough documentation of the digital publishing multiverse.

. . . .

One big question animates Thompson’s investigation: “So what happens when the oldest of our media industries collides with the great technological revolution of our time?” That sounds like hyperbole — book publishing hasn’t exactly stood still since Gutenberg. A lot happens in 500 years, even without computers. But for an industry built on the time-tested format of print books, the internet understandably looked and felt like an existential threat as well as an opportunity.

Early on in his study, Thompson neatly evokes the fear that accompanied the advent of ebooks. The shift to digital formats had already eviscerated the music industry; no wonder publishers felt queasy. As Thompson writes, “Were books heading in the same direction as CDs and vinyl LPs — on a precipitous downward slope and likely to be eclipsed by digital downloads? Was this the beginning of the end of the physical book?” That question has been asked over and over again for decades now, and the answer remains an emphatic No. (Note to pundits: Please resist the urge to write more “Print isn’t dead!” hot takes.) But publishers didn’t know that in the early digital days.

The words “revolution” and “disruption” get thrown around so often that they’ve lost their punch, but Thompson justifies his use of them here. He recalls the “dizzying growth” of digital books beginning in 2008, “the first full year of the Kindle.” That year alone, ebook sales for US trade titles added up to $69 million; by 2012, they had ballooned to $1.5 billion, “a 22-fold increase in just four years.”

Print, as usual, refused to be superseded. Despite their early boom, ebooks didn’t cannibalize the print market. Thompson uses data from the Association of American Publishers to show that ebooks plateaued at 23 to 24 percent of total book sales in the 2012–’14 period, then slipped to about 15 percent in 2017–’18. Print books, on the other hand, continue to account for the lion’s share of sales, with a low point of about 75 percent in 2012–’14, bouncing back to 80­ to 85 percent of total sales in 2015–’16. (Thompson’s study stops before the 2020–’21 pandemic, but print sales have for the most part been strong in the COVID-19 era.)

For some high-consumption genres, like romance, the ebook format turned out to be a match made in heaven; Thompson notes that romance “outperforms every other category by a significant margin.” But readers in most genres have grown used to choosing among formats, and traditional publishers have for the most part proved able and willing to incorporate those formats into their catalogs. That’s a net gain both for consumer choice and for broader access to books.

. . . .

Thompson quotes an anonymous trade-publishing CEO: “The power of Amazon is the single biggest issue in publishing.”

It’s easy to see why. With its vast market reach and unprecedented access to customer data, Amazon has made itself indispensable to publishers, who rely on it both to drive sales (often at painfully deep discounts) and to connect with readers. For many of us, if a book’s not available on Amazon, it might as well not exist. “Given Amazon’s dominant position as a retailer of both print and ebooks and its large stock of information capital, publishers increasingly find themselves locked in a Faustian pact with their largest customer,” Thompson writes.

That pact has proven hard to break. “Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all ebook unit sales, and for many publishers, around half — in some cases, more — of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon,” Thompson points out. That’s staggering.

Does Amazon care about books? Not in the way that publishers, authors, and readers do, but that doesn’t change the power dynamic. Amazon derives its power from market share, yes, but also from what Thompson calls “information capital” — namely the data it collects about its customers. That gives it an enormous advantage over publishers, whose traditional business approach prioritizes creative content and relationships with authors and booksellers.

Workarounds to Amazon exist, though not yet at scale. Just as authors have learned to connect with readers via email newsletters and social media, so have publishers been experimenting with direct outreach via digital channels. Email feels almost quaint, but done well it remains a simple and effective way to reach a target audience. Selling directly to readers means publishers can avoid the discounts and terms imposed on them by Amazon and other distributors.

. . . .

Authors can now sidestep literary gatekeepers, such as agents and acquiring editors, and build successful careers with the help of self-publishing platforms and outlets that didn’t exist 20 or even 10 years ago. Self-publishing has become respectable; we’ve traveled a long way from the days when book review editors wrote off self-published books as vanity press projects. Newspaper book sections have mostly vanished, but book commentary pops up all over the internet, in serious review outlets like this one and in the feeds of Instagram and TikTok influencers. It’s a #bookstagram as well as an NYTBR world now. To me, that feels like a win for books, authors, and readers.

. . . .

Some authors hit the big time in terms of sales and readers without relying on a traditional publisher. Thompson returns several times to the example of the software engineer-turned-writer Andy Weir, whose hit book The Martian (2011) got its start as serialized chapters published on his blog and delivered to readers via newsletter. (Newsletters represent another digital-publishing trend unlikely to disappear anytime soon.) “The astonishing success of The Martian — from blog to bestseller — epitomizes the paradox of the digital revolution in publishing: unprecedented new opportunities are opened up, both for individuals and for organizations, while beneath the surface the tectonic plates of the industry are shifting,” Thompson writes.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the United Kingdom, there is a tradition of printing 100-page books—booklets, really—from lectures given by notable judges and lawyers. The Hamlyn Lecture series, for example, has featured such distinguished talks as Lord Denning’s “Freedom Under the Law” (1949), Professor Arthur Goodhart’s “English Law and the Moral Law” (1953) and Dean Erwin Griswold’s “Law and Lawyers in the United States” (1964). The primers are collectible, memorable and quotable.

Now Harvard University Press has perhaps embarked on a similar plan for Harvard Law School’s annual Scalia Lecture series, instituted in 2013. This year the program turned to Justice Stephen Breyer, who has thought deeply about judicial power, the rule of law and the role of the judiciary in the American polity. Perhaps these three subjects are in the nature of a trinity: three that make up one. In any event, their position in the U.S., when compared to the rest of the world, has been enviably secure. Yet insiders know that, here as elsewhere, the institution is perennially precarious.

In April Justice Breyer spoke from a lectern to a Zoom audience, and now his speech is preserved in book form. Those wishing to know Justice Breyer’s thoughts can choose either to read the book or to watch the two-hour speech on YouTube. You’d feel edified in doing either.

Quoting Cicero, Justice Breyer argues that the only way to ensure obedience to the Supreme Court’s pronouncements is to convince people that the Court deserves obedience because itsdecisions are just. That means an observer must assess not the justness of each individual decision, but the justness of the Court’s decisions collectively and in general.

In support of this thesis, Justice Breyer gives a mini-lecture on American constitutional history and on the struggle, when interpreting the Constitution, for judicial supremacy. He explains how Chief Justice John Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison (1803), decided the case in a most unexpected fashion—pleasing President Thomas Jefferson with the specific result but only by establishing the Court’s ability to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. That all but guaranteed acceptance of the Court’s power, at least in that case, while establishing the doctrine of judicial review.

Nearly 30 years later, when the Supreme Court declared that the State of Georgia had no rightful control over Cherokee lands there—lands where gold had been discovered—President Andrew Jackson and the state of Georgia both ignored the decision. There was no enforcement. As a result, the Cherokee Nation was driven to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

After that outrage, adherence to the principle of judicial review was, reassuringly, mostly re-established. Yet even as late as the 1950s, with Brown v. Board of Education, it wasn’t at all clear whether the Court’s decision would be enforced by the Executive Branch. Some today may have forgotten that, to enforce Brown, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 parachutists from the 101st Airborne Division into Arkansas. Central High in Little Rock would no longer be white-only. In taking that bold action, Eisenhower ignored the advice of James Byrnes, the South Carolina governor who had once briefly served on the Supreme Court, before returning to the Roosevelt administration to aid the war effort. At the time of Brown, Byrnes advocated taking the Jacksonian stance of doing nothing to enforce the Court’s decree. The U.S., in other words, came perilously close to a 20th-century trail of tears—one that would have resulted from reducing the Brown decision to empty words on a piece of paper.

. . . .

If the events of the past year have taught us anything, it’s that the established institutions of the United States are more fragile than almost any of us had previously thought. We used to believe, for example, that strongman coups were exclusively in the domain of Third World countries. Now we know that the potential is also here on our shores.

Meanwhile, judicial institutions are under attack once again. We can’t say “under attack as never before,” because Justice Breyer shows us that such attacks are a persistent problem. Although he abjures speaking directly about the current Court-packing proposals, the author wants to “ensure that those who debate these proposals also consider an important institutional point, namely how a proposed change would affect the rule of law itself.” His voice is a powerful one, and the brevity of this book, together with its readability, should ensure its lasting influence. Like anyone else, Washington leaders can absorb its message in a single evening.

. . . .

The central question is whether courts should interpret legal documents by giving them a fair reading of what they denoted at the time of adoption, or whether courts can interpret those texts according to their broad purposes (not getting too caught up in grammar and historical dictionaries) and even the desirability of results. As Justice Breyer puts it: “Some judges place predominant weight upon text and precedent; others place greater weight on purposes and consequences.” As the popular mind conceives it, conservatives do the former, and liberals do the latter. And the latter approach, according to Scalia, leads inevitably to appointing judges who will vote for outcomes they personally favor. Hence the process becomes more politicized the further judges stray from the text.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but, if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The United States Constitution includes only a broad overview of the US court system. Here is all that document says about courts:

Article III.

Section. 1.

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Section. 2.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;— between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Section. 3.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Unlike any other public office mentioned in the Constitution, federal judges at all levels serve until they voluntarily retire or die.

The specific language is:

The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The “good Behavior” language means that federal judges can be removed from office only via an impeachment process.

The House of Representatives impeaches a judge and the Senate holds a trial to determine whether removal is justified. A simple majority vote in the House is required to impeach and a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to convict the judge of the charges laid in the impeachment and remove the judge from office.

Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached, Samuel Chase, who was appointed an Associate Justice in 1788 by George Washington.

President Thomas Jefferson was upset at several federal judges who had held some of his legislative initiatives to be unconstitutional. Jefferson and his supporters in the House and Senate repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, under which federal courts subordinate to the Supreme Court were established, thus abolishing the federal courts and, effectively terminating their lifetime appointments as provided in Article III of the Constitution.

Thereafter, Chase severely and publicly criticized this action. For this, he was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1803. Following a trial in the Senate, several votes were taken, but the required 2/3 majority voting for Chase to be removed from the bench could not be attained. Chase continued to serve on the Supreme Court until his death in 1811.

See Wikipedia for more information about Chase. This Wikipedia article includes lots of links to third-party information regarding Chase and his trial.

Research And Learning And Blogging

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I spent the morning researching things like BookTok and NFTs for writers and Substack. I was going to write about each, but you know what? I don’t want to.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been blogging now on the publishing industry—the indie publishing industry in particular (which some folks still insist on calling self-publishing)—for 12 years now. Which makes me a relic.

When I started blogging, it was something that everyone did because that was the way to attract readers to your fiction. You could make a living by writing a blog.

The rule of thumb for writer-bloggers was never write a blog longer than 500 words. Yeah, you see how that worked for me. I never write a blog that short.

But folks were making a small fortune blogging about topics not being covered by the mainstream media. Eventually, though, that niche went away or it disappeared behind a paywall like Patreon. Now that paywall includes Substack, which I am truly interested in.

Honestly, though, if I blog about it, it really isn’t fair to you all. My knowledge of Substack is an inch deep, which is an inch deeper than my knowledge of NFTs, and two inches deeper than my knowledge of BookTok. I haven’t even been to TikTok, although I’ve seen some great vids designed for TikTok.

I had planned—weeks ago—to learn all of this in depth, so that I actually could cite articles and experts and do a good analysis of the changes happening in the digital sphere.

I didn’t do any of it, I thought for lack of time. But I managed to research some other things which are important to my career and I also managed to learn some new skills that I will continue delve into. So really, lack of time isn’t the issue.

Lack of priority is.

And I realized, that’s where the blog is, as well as the end of this particular series of posts.

When I started blogging in 2009, the indie world was small and contained. I wrote about that in the previous blog. In indie publishing, rather like traditional publishing, we were all doing the exact same things, because there wasn’t much more to do.

New things came on the scene, and we all analyzed them. Sometimes we made group decisions about them (you have to try BookBub!) and sometimes we did our own thing, after a lot of analysis. But we were talking about the same programs or opportunities.

As new things proliferated by 2014 or so, those of us in the blogosphere tried to keep up. The problem was that many of those new things would disappear shortly after we researched them. I got paid $4000 by an app developer around that time so that he would design an app based on my Fey books. And then he literally disappeared. He paid me, said he started, and poof! gone as if he had never existed. (And he paid me by check, so he wasn’t trying to get my bank account information.)

Stuff like that happened all the time. And eventually, I started to tune out some of the new. It was either keep up or get my writing done. For some reason, I preferred writing.

A friend of mine who makes part of their living off online work advising people what to do with their indie publishing opted to do something different. They just interviewed everyone about every bit of new tech. My friend did not investigate the tech or even use most of it. The upshot of it was that my friend knew about the newest latest thing, but rarely used it themselves.

That put them in almost reportorial mode even though they had started off only interviewing things they recommended. And, let me say as a former journalist, the problem with reportorial mode is the one that I mentioned above. Journalists are, by definition, generalists. Their knowledge of damn near everything is only an inch deep.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Rethinking productivity

From The Bookseller:

Are you feeling the pressure? As we start a ‘new term’, post-restrictions, I know many authors are feeling compelled to start or continue at a certain pace. But we are still in or recovering from trauma, so before you think about what it is possible for you to achieve, please think about how you are and how you can look after yourself and others more.

There is a lot of advice circulated about maximising productivity, but what do we really need to get decent work done? It is lovely to have an office or a dedicated room, but if circumstances demand that you work at your kitchen table, or on your lap, so be it. If you wait for those perfect circumstances, you will never start, so always go with what you have. I write at the kitchen table and am frequently interrupted. I go with it and use headphones for busy times. Remember that genius exists in the finest library, but also at a scruffy kitchen table. If you think you must assemble ideal terrain before you start, then you are deferring your creativity to fate. You may feel down, sad or grieving. But you can write in rage and sadness, too. Maybe not yet, but you will. Sometimes, little bits of story unfurl within your own sad tale; cling to them, because they are still precious. I have spent the pandemic home schooling, guiding, Skype teaching, being ill, but, most of all, under the pressure of caring for a very poorly offspring with little external support. This has forced me to adjust my notions both of what productivity is and of the conditions in which it is sustained.

And what about the adage of writing every day? Pah! Tremendous if this is you, but I cannot do it, and you mght not be able to either, for a whole host of reasons. This does not mean you cannot produce a book. Again, go with what is available to you. Thinking, reading, listening; you may not have committed words to the page, but a process is still ongoing. Stay in your lane; understand that comparison is futile. Your situation is unique to you and wondering if someone else is doing better will simply erode energy and confidence.

Pondering is the writing, too. The work.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Dangles a New Perk in Fight for U.S. Workers: Free Bachelor’s Degrees

From The Wall Street Journal:

The battle for hourly workers is escalating beyond minimum wage across the U.S., as retailers, restaurant chains, garbage haulers and meat processors increasingly dangle the prospect of a free college education as a way to lure and retain staff.

Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday plans to announce that it is expanding its educational benefits by offering more than 750,000 U.S. hourly employees the chance to enroll in a fully paid bachelor’s degree program after 90 days of employment. The e-commerce giant says employees will be eligible to get degrees through educational institutions nationwide.

Amazon is trying to attract job seekers in a tight labor market and reduce turnover among some hourly workers. The company has hired 400,000 employees during the pandemic, but it is looking to bring on tens of thousands of additional hourly staffers to work in its fulfillment centers and delivery network over the coming months. Employees working as little as 20 hours a week will be eligible for the college benefit, though Amazon will pay 50% of the college costs for part-time staffers.

“Career progression is the new minimum wage,” said Ardine Williams, a vice president of workforce development at Amazon, who notes employer-funded training can help people prepare for a career that interests them. “Most adult learners don’t have the luxury of quitting their jobs and going to school full-time.”

The stepped-up perks also reflect what executives say is a reality across the corporate sphere: Even $15 an hour, Amazon’s base wage, is no longer enough to attract many workers. As more employers and cities have raised minimum wages, large companies have aimed to differentiate themselves through additional benefits, such as greater time off, more reliable scheduling, access to emergency child care and, increasingly, a path to a broader education and new skills.

Many of America’s biggest companies strengthened educational initiatives this year, or rolled out programs essentially matching the benefits offered by their competitors.

Walmart Inc., one of Amazon’s chief rivals, in July said it would fully subsidize college tuition and books for 1.5 million part-time and full-time employees in the U.S., dropping an earlier requirement that employees pay a $1 daily fee toward their education. Walmart employees can enroll in the program on their first day of employment. The retailer has expanded the number of educational partners over time, adding Johnson & Wales University and the University of Arizona, among others, this summer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has become increasingly concerned about inflation hitting the US economy with so much government spending, current and proposed.

The rationale for this spending is to help the economy recover from the effects of the Covid shutdowns, but PG is worried about overheating the economy. For him, the challenges Amazon, Walmart and others are having with recruiting at minimum wage is an indicator of inflation. Additionally, he understands that real estate and auto prices (both new and used) have also experienced significant increases.

The last period of major inflation in the US was in th3 1980’s, about forty years ago. This means that the only adults who actually experienced this inflationary period is in their 60’s. He worries that those in their 40’s making government economic policy have only a theoretical understanding about how damaging inflation can be to an economy and to individuals trying to deal with this serious impact on their finances.

Seven Surefire Ways to Weaken Your Writing

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

You undertook the grand adventure of writing and publishing a book. And now you’ve either learned, or will shortly learn, that the final page of your book is not the end of writing, but the segue from writing the book into writing about the book. Today’s publishing market is a media-content glutton. Whether you’ve written a novel or a nonfiction book, you’ll find yourself churning out essays, blogposts, presentations, interview questions and answers, newsletters, and memes.

Regardless of audience and format, your credibility is everything. You want your words to ring strong, true, relevant, and original. That’s how you grab and hold a reader’s attention, how you make them want to read more from you, how you build an ongoing readership—how you become an established author with a following.

Nothing will stamp you as unoriginal, bland, and of dubious authority as will the use of cliches that cast aspersions on your creativity and believability. Here are seven to avoid.

  1. “I’m not gonna lie”

A pediatric dental hygienist once told me, “The worst thing you can say to your child is, ‘don’t worry, it won’t hurt.’ Chances are your child wasn’t worried about pain until you brought it up.”

The same goes for telling your reader you’re not gonna lie. Before you qualified what you’re about to say by suggesting there are times when you do lie, your readers assumed you to be a trustworthy source. Now they wonder why you felt you had to say that, and whether it means that statements you don’t preface with “I’m not gonna lie” are untrue.

Gotta love one of Urban Dictionary’s definitions of the phrase: “A term that when prefixed to a statement does more damage than good.”

Whether you’re trying to establish credibility for your opinion, reveal an endearing vulnerability, or defend yourself against an unpopular stance, a strong standalone statement will have more impact on your readers. 

And beware of doubt-casting cousins like “I’ll be honest,” “In all honesty,” and “Truth be told,” and  . . . 

  1. “Trust me”

There’s good reason why writers are admonished to show, not tell. If you have to fall back on “Trust me” to gain the compliance or confidence of others, you haven’t taken actions or provided the information or perspectives that instill trust. Show us. You have to earn trust; it’s never an entitlement. We show, not tell, as demonstration of integrity and engagement. There’s no shortcut directive for that.

  1. “ . . . of all time”

The Big Bang was more than 13 billion years ago. And even that’s not all of time, because what about the moment before the Big Bang? Time is infinite, human recorded history is only a few thousand years. How infinitely silly it sounds classify something like television shows, football players, mobile apps, and running shoes as the best “of all time.” 

If you’re talking about a favorite something, it needs no qualification. “Cherry Garcia is my favorite ice cream” is quite clear. If you must qualify, “Atticus Finch is the greatest hero in film history” carries more weight than a film “of all time” when film has been around less than 150 years.

  1. “Let that sink in.”

The use of this junk phrase means you either didn’t use language clear enough to make your point, or you believe your reader lacks the intellect to know when you’ve made an important point. 

It’s condescending. Let that si . . . see what I mean?

A clear, succinct statement needs no command tag, but if you just can’t let go of the sinking-in idiom, you can take the conceit out of it by flipping it onto yourself: 

When I let that sink in, I was able to take a step back and look for solutions.

I let that sink in, and how very troubling it was. Now what?

Letting something that heavy sink in took a while.

Now your reader is empathizing with you rather than feeling irritated or patronized.

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

8 Critical Thinking Fallacies You’re Likely Falling For on Social Media

From Zarvana:

You may think that scrolling endlessly through social media is a harmless way to decompress after a long day of work and let your mind relax. And the latest research on the mental and emotional effects of sinking hours into social media suggests that it has a relatively limited effect on your well-being.

While social media may not be the cause for the increasing youth depression rates, it does have a perhaps, more insidious effect on our critical thinking skills. The average adult spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day on social media. It’s impossible to spend that much time doing a single activity in your day without the repetitive behaviors associated with that activity carrying over into how you do other activities.

How Social Media is Undermining Your Critical Thinking Skills

Said another way, the way you engage with social media is, likely without you knowing it, training you how to think when at work, when interacting with friends and family, and when running into strangers on the street. Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

When you thumb through Instagram or Twitter posts, you’re building cognitive habits around how you process and make sense of information. And research suggests that our habits for processing information on social media are far from exemplary. We know this because many people fail to identify fake or false information from true information. In one study, 44% of millennial participants failed to correctly identify whether information was true or false in at least four of nine questions.

The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to fall prey to false information. A study sponsored by the Reboot Foundation found that 36% of people who check social media hourly or more frequently held at least one wrong belief about COVID-19, while only 22% of people who checked social media once a week held at least one wrong belief.

Our use of social media limits the development of robust critical thinking skills. Professor Greenfield explains that the visual media we consume on screens “do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games.”

While identifying fake news is a key critical thinking-related challenge when it comes to social media, there is another challenge that goes beyond deciphering fact from fake. This is the challenge of determining whether the reasoning that underlies a post or article is rigorous and rationale. Unfortunately, social media is littered with posts that contain critical thinking fallacies. We must learn to identify them or we will fall prey to them not just on social media, but in every area of life.

Here are some examples of common critical thinking fallacies.

Examples of Critical Thinking Fallacies on Social Media

Our goal is not to convince you of any particular point of view found in the examples. Critical thinking doesn’t care about the answer. It only cares about the rigor behind the support for the answer. As we’ve explained, critical thinking is providing a robust answer to a question.

Undermining the Messenger Fallacy:

Many times, people on social media immediately dismiss an idea because of the person sharing it. This is a cognitive shortcut that leads to lazy thinking. There is no law of logic or nature that dictates that if people made statements that are wrong or false in the past, they can no longer make any statements that are right or true.

When you discredit ideas because of their source, you operate out of “stereotype thinking.” Stereotype thinking says that because a certain condition has been statistically probable in the past, it is true in the present. While stereotypes can help people make snap decisions when absolutely necessary, they create significant problems as we can clearly see from the stories of racial inequity that are becoming more visible.

Because most people fall prey to this fallacy, those arguing on social media often resort to a cheap and often irrelevant strategy for dismissing the ideas of those with whom they disagree. Rather than engaging in a debate around the idea shared by their opponent, they simply hurl personal attacks at the opponent. The goal is to discredit the messenger so that we will automatically dismiss the idea.

Here’s a simple, but common example:

@JoeBiden, you & your son Hunter are #MadeInChina  pic.twitter.com/0Z3eSM0Bpp— Marla Hohner (@marlahohner) July 1, 2020

The other consequence of this fallacy is that we are much more likely to reject an idea posed by someone we dislike even if we would have supported the idea had it been presented by someone we like – and the opposite is true, we are quick to support ideas shared by our friends even if they aren’t rigorous enough to warrant our support.

Correlation vs. Causation Fallacy

This is a more well-known fallacy that is beat into the head of every statistics student: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because two events trend together doesn’t mean that one caused the other. For example, let’s imagine hypothetically that you found data asserting that people drive slower in urban areas when it rains. The conclusion that most people would jump to is that the presence of rain causes people to drive more slowly. If your job is to eliminate the slow-downs, you might try to solve this problem by requiring drivers to go through rain driving training or increasing regulations on tire conditions during vehicle inspections.

However, it’s easy to see that a third factor may be the cause of reduced driving speeds. When it rains, more people in cities are likely to drive (rather than walk, bike, or take public transport and get wet), creating more traffic, which, in turn, could cause people to drive more slowly.

You can see how the tendency to believe that correlation equals causation can cause you to arrive at very different conclusions.

The logic used in this Twitter thread is that Democrats are the cause for riots and racist police brutality because the leadership in those cities and states are largely Democratic. While this could be the case, the data shared in this tweet only establishes correlation, not causation. There are many other possible explanations for how both of these facts can be true without one causing the other.

. . . .

Wrong Denominator Fallacy

Dividing the incidence of an event by a denominator helps achieve what statisticians call normalization of the data. For example, imagine you take a test that has 200 questions and you get 20 wrong and your friend takes a test with 100 questions and gets 11 wrong. If you simply compare the number of wrong answers, you would think you did worse. But you answered more questions than your friend, so you have to divide the number wrong by the total number of questions:

  • 20/200 = 10% wrong
  • 11/100 = 11% wrong

When you normalize the data by dividing by the right denominator, you can see the that conclusion is reversed: you did better, not worse.

Sometimes people run into critical thinking fallacies because they don’t normalize the data; that is, they don’t divide by a denominator. But a more subtle fallacy is dividing by the wrong denominator.

Link to the rest at Zarvana

How to stop writing a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

For the last year and a half, I’ve written nearly a dozen drafts of a novel. I wrote (or rewrote) 1,000 words every day, cancelled plans to work on my novel, and dreamed of publication. 

Recently, I decided to put my novel in the drawer and move on. It was gut-wrenching, but I know it was the right thing to do.

In this post, I’ll talk about why I came to that decision, how to mourn an unfixable novel, and how to move on. 

About six months into the writing process, I knew my novel wasn’t going to work. 

My plot was boring. I would re-read the story and find myself tuning out after the first third of the book. If reading it was boring, you can imagine how boring it was to write; I had to bribe myself with cookies to finish chapters. 

A boring plot is not necessarily the final death knell of a novel-in-progress. So I re-plotted individual chapters and added more spice, ultimately writing five more drafts and about 100,000 more words. 

Unfortunately, my characters were grieving (there’s a lot of death in the book), so a more energetic plot didn’t match their motivations. I was adding surface-level excitement to a fundamentally uninteresting story arc. The book was just a series of emotionally intense but pointless scenes. 

It wasn’t until I took a step back and evaluated the story itself — not how I told the story, but what the story was — that I realized that I didn’t have the energy to fix the novel. 

This is the key question you need to ask yourself if you’re deciding whether or not to put a novel aside: Have you lost the drive to keep pushing forward? Have you already wrestled with it for multiple drafts, to no avail? Are you in the throes of revision fatigue or are you more genuinely burned out with this novel?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Sunk Cost Fallacy

From The Decision Lab:

The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

. . . .

Imagine that you bought a concert ticket a few weeks ago for $50. On the day of the concert, you feel sick and it’s raining outside. You know that traffic will be worse because of the rain and that you risk getting sicker by going to the concert. Despite the fact that it seems as though the current drawbacks outweigh the benefits, why are you still likely to choose to go to the concert?

This is known as the sunk cost fallacy. We are likely to continue an endeavor if we have already invested in it, whether it be a monetary investment or effort that we put into the decision. That often means we go against evidence that shows it is no longer the best decision, such as sickness or weather affecting the event.

. . . .

Individual effects

In economic terms, sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.1 In the previous example, the $50 spent on concert tickets would not be recovered whether or not you attended the concert. It therefore should not be a factor in our current decision-making, because it is irrational to use irrecoverable costs as rationale for making a present decision. If we acted rationally, only future costs and benefits would be taken into account, because regardless of what we have already invested, we will not get it back whether or not we follow through on the decision.

The sunk cost fallacy means that we are making irrational decisions because we are factoring in influences other than the current alternatives. The fallacy affects a number of different areas of our lives leading to suboptimal outcomes.

These outcomes range from deciding to stay with a partner even if we are unhappy because we’ve already invested years of our lives with them, to continuing to spend money renovating an old house, even if it would be cheaper to buy a new one, because we’ve already invested money into it.

Systemic effects

The sunk cost fallacy not only has an impact on small day-to-day decisions like attending a concert. It also has been proven to impact the decisions that governments and companies make.

A famous example of the sunk cost fallacy impacting large-scale decisions was coined the Concorde fallacy. In 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee met to discuss building a supersonic airplane, the Concorde. French and British engine manufacturers and French and British governments were involved in the project that was estimated to cost almost $100 million dollars. Long before the project was over, it was clear that there were increasing costs and that the financial gains of the plane, once in use, would not offset them. However, the project continued. The manufactures and governments followed through on the project because they had already made significant financial investments and dedicated a lot of time to the project. Ultimately, this led to millions of dollars being wasted, and Concorde operated for less than 30 years.

If governments and large companies like those involved in the Concorde project are susceptible to cognitive fallacies like the sunk cost fallacy, it is easy to see that significant amounts of money, time and effort are wasted because the sunk costs would never be recovered regardless of whether the project was abandoned. Since governments are sometimes using tax-payers’ money for projects, their adherence to the sunk cost fallacy can negatively affect us all.

Link to the rest at The Decision Lab

Zorba

Not much to do with writing and PG isn’t going on another video binge, but he learned that Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis died last Thursday at 96. Theodorakis composed the music for the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek.

The terrible thing about the internet and Amazon

The terrible thing about the internet and Amazon is that they take the magic and happy chaos out of book shopping. The internet might give you what you want, but it won’t give you what you need.

Tom Hodgkinson

PG doesn’t usually comment on quotes, but, perhaps he’s missing something because he obtains all of his book pleasure from reading them. Lots and lot of them.

While one look at PG’s office would convince PG’s harshest observer that he tends to generate and work among quite a bit of chaos, there are no books buried there (he thinks). PG’s happiness sometimes arises from the chaos when he discovers a check made payable to him that he overlooked when it first arrived.

While the types of books PG likes to read change from time to time, he doesn’t think happy chaos or magic are involved in these changes.

NPD BookScan: Mystery Solved on US Thriller Sales’ Lag?

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a follow to Monday’s (August 30) update on the United States’ market, NPD BookScan’s research team has released a genre-specific look at the thriller and suspense category, finding that US sales have dropped six percent in the last year.

Thrillers and suspense are probably most popular in the United Kingdom’s market, where they reign at the top of the list, much as romance seems to do in the American market. But the category is a major one in the States, making its apparent trend toward a softening interesting.

NPD sees thrillers standing as one in eight adult fiction print and ebook buys in the American market.

To date this year, thrillers are the third largest-selling category, NPD Books reports, with unit sales for adult thrillers when combining print and ebook sales reaching 14.1 million units for the year-to-date through the end of May. But sales are down six percent in the past year.

Kristen McLean, NPD’s lead books analyst points to notable new thrillers released in 2021 and sees the category being “up slightly” over last year. However, she says it has fallen behind the pace set by the rest of the adult fiction market, which has risen by 15 percent, in combined print and ebook formats through the end of May.

“As with Christmas books,” McLean says, “there’s always room for another great thriller on the shelf. It’s a core evergreen category that’s always ripe for new energy,” which might indicate there’s some concern for those in the business working the thriller/suspense category.

“In 2021,” she says, “the category has not kept up with overall fiction growth trends, but  perhaps not for obvious reasons.”

. . . .

“Part of the declining growth in thrillers seems to be because of changes in consumer tastes,” McLean says–which could indeed be predictive of more weakening in the category.

“But it’s also true that books that have traditional elements of thriller and suspense books are now being categorized in in other hot areas of the fiction market,” she says, “like women’s contemporary fiction, general fiction, and young adult fiction, where they’re driving growth.” That trend of thriller and suspense content going into other traditional categorizations might be what’s behind the downward pressure on the category.

As an example, McLean points to Laura Dave’s recent bestseller, The Last Thing He Told Me (Simon & Schuster, May 4), which is categorized as general fiction. At this writing, the book stands at No. 2 on the Amazon Charts’ most-read fiction side, its 17th week on the list.

McLean also points out that two of the four new thriller writers topping NPD’s growth list in the category are women. Suspense and thrillers have, in the past, been dominated by male authors in the States.

“The rising profile of women authors,” McLean says, “indicates that there may be a market for more female voices in this genre,” in the American field—which, of course, could be a key for international markets looking to find a foothold with translations sold into the US trade marketplace.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Englishman trying to save American bookstores from Amazon

From FT Magazine (June 2, 2021):

On a bright Tuesday in April, the car parks at Fosse Park, an out-of-town shopping centre south of Leicester, are packed. Recently eased lockdown rules have allowed shops to reopen, and many people are enjoying their freedom. Eager customers line up in the sunshine.

One of the visitors is Oana Bacos, a 26-year-old who works nearby. Today, Bacos is giving herself a treat in a newly opened outlet of bookshop Waterstones. She stands by the shelves, holding a paperback of Convenience Store Woman by the Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata. “The bookseller recommended this, and we had a nice chat about what she enjoys, what I enjoy and all the books we have in common,” she says. “I love being here and browsing. It’s so different from ­looking online.”

Before the pandemic, Bacos was a regular at the Waterstones in the centre of Leicester, one of 286 stores run by the UK’s largest book chain. Her presence in Fosse Park is an omen: more retailers are now moving out of town. “People are happy to return to shops but bookstores are special,” says the store’s manager, Louise Walker, who joined a chain in 1987 that was later taken over by Waterstones. “They are so pleased just to be here, they talk about it like a lifeline. They want to touch the books, even smell them.”

The future of this precious experience is far from assured in the age of Amazon, ebooks and the pervasive strain on physical retailers of all kinds. A great deal depends on the benign dictator of English-language bookstores, James Daunt.

The 57-year-old executive is well known in the UK for founding Daunt Books, a quirky but much-loved group of nine shops, 31 years ago. In 2011, as the might of Jeff Bezos’s juggernaut shook publishing, Daunt was called in to rescue Waterstones from threatened extinction. Now he is attempting to repeat the trick.

In 2019, the investment fund that owns Waterstones, Elliott Advisors, purchased the ailing Barnes & Noble and its 607 US bookstores for $638m and put Daunt in charge. Then the pandemic struck.

While many stores suffered during lockdown, book sales rose sharply as people sought diversion. “I’m optimistic that people have enjoyed reading books, and they’ll continue to do so,” says Daunt, sitting by a tome-piled table at his own chain’s first store in London’s upmarket Marylebone district. “The big question is, will they find it most pleasurable to buy them in places like this?”

Another pressing question is whether Daunt can conquer the larger and more diverse US market using a formula honed in the UK. The number of bookstores in America fell from 11,200 in 2004 to 6,200 in 2018, and some doubt whether anything can halt the decline.

“If his mission is to turn Barnes & Noble into a ­successful chain, it can’t be done,” says Mike Shatzkin, a veteran New York-based analyst. “It’s impossible. The best strategy for the owners is to take out cash as long as they can, and then sell the bones.”

Daunt knows that failing would hurt more than his reputation. It would jeopardise the distribution infrastructure that supports thousands of independent bookstores across the US, with knock-on effects in UK books. “If we go bust, our world is pretty much screwed. You end up with only Amazon and the publishers,” he says. “Amazon is the predator that has culled the weak in this business and left only the strongest. If we relax for a second, it will eat us.”

When Daunt arrived in New York to take charge of Barnes & Noble two years ago, he attended a party held by Madeline McIntosh, US chief executive of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publisher. Editors were eager to meet the new B&N boss, but McIntosh thought Daunt seemed distracted. “He kept on looking around at my bookshelves,” she recalls. “When he was leaving, he said, ‘I hope I can come back to browse. That’s what I’d really like to do.’ So he’s a book nerd, like us. That’s why we like him.”

This bookishness is not an act. But it is easily misread as softness, especially by Americans. Daunt is, in fact, distinctly determined, sometimes ruthlessly so. As he puts it, “Don’t assume good fortune. Do whatever is necessary to get through.” His first step at B&N was to halve the staff at its New York head office, and he later laid off 5,000 employees. “Behind his cool exterior, there’s an emotional intensity. He’s incredibly committed and driven,” says Tom Weldon, who heads Penguin Random House in the UK.

. . . .

The iron entered his soul when he set up his first bookshop in an Edwardian building on ­Marylebone High Street in 1990. He soon discovered that it was not an easy life. He had to sit on a lot of expensive stock, which took a long time to sell. He needed large spaces in desirable locations with high rents, and he required a lot of knowledgeable staff.

“I found,” Daunt says, “that the economics of a bookshop are ­terrible, like shit.” He spent his first four years ­fearing bankruptcy. Sometimes he did not pay ­creditors because he was short of cash. ­“If there were two men in suits in the queue, I knew the ­bailiffs had turned up,” he says.

. . . .

Amid this struggle, Daunt developed his distinctive style: ­recommending books that he and his staff had actually read and enjoyed, rather than publishers’ favourites, and displaying them artfully with their covers face out, sometimes with handwritten notes of recommendation. Most retail chains now grasp the importance of creating an enticing atmosphere in stores, but he mastered it early. He understood bookshops work best if they feel like clubs in which dedicated readers can consult expert curators.

Despite the scale of the operations over which he now presides, Daunt retains the manner of his early years. He gets around his London shops by bicycle. When we meet in Marylebone, he sports a plaster on his forehead, having hit himself by accident while pruning an apple tree at his home in Hampstead. (The family also has a second home in Suffolk.)

His spartan habits extend to holidays. The family bought “a wreck of a house” on the Scottish island of Jura four years ago but have yet to refurbish it, and instead stay with old friends on their annual visits. “It’s a big, wild island, a magical place,” Daunt says. If you walk up the west side, there are some wonderful beaches. You carry a tent or stay [overnight] in a bothy, but the most fun is to sleep in a cave.”

Daunt’s distinctive personality, his charm married to deliberate reticence, can puzzle some US executives. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Is this because you’re James or because you’re British?’” says Jackie De Leo, B&N’s vice-president for bookstores. “I have to pull out what he really means. He doesn’t give you all the answers, but I think there’s a method there.”

Link to the rest at FT Magazine

A good time for magazines, a great time for books: Publishing Pandemic Roundtable

From What’s New in Publishing:

Few retailers are more important to specialty magazine publishers than Barnes and Noble. The Publishing Pandemic Roundtable (Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me) met with Krifka Steffey, the Director of Merchandise for Newsstand and Media, to talk about the chain’s recovery in 2021, and the fresh, innovative product she’d like to see.

Since we last spoke, Barnes and Noble has closed two of their New York offices, the one on 6th Avenue and the 5th Avenue office where magazine publishers have been accustomed to go for their meetings.

The majority of the Barnes and Noble personnel will have their offices in the location above Union Square, along with new office space in Clifton NJ.  While Krifka expects to be in the office many days, others she will work remote or from one of the stores.

She’s taken advantage of this time to visit the stores. While the chain was already moving in the direction of refreshing and customizing their stores by location, that change was accelerated by the temporary closings and shorter hours of the COVID lockdown. One of biggest changes Krifka finds is that the cookie-cutter approach of former years is now gone. Each of the individual stores in the chain are molding themselves into unique bookstores. The look and feel of the stores, the books set out front, the hand selling, the books recommended—all are now individualized.

Bo: I think the direction you’re taking is one hundred percent fabulous.

Krifka: It’s a work in progress, changing a direction that had been set for years.

Joe: What difference do these changes make in the product buying?

Krifka: For magazines, we’re still doing it the same; but, for example, with trade books, headquarters will do the initial distribution, and then there are district-level replenishment buyers and store managers who will make local decisions. When something is regionally focused, an author from an area, you’ll see it reflected. It’s a big shift to more local control.

Sherin: Where each store is operating almost as an independent bookstore.

Krifka: Right. On our newsstand, the way we’ve always bought has been individualized. Our work with magazines is highly curated. It’s nice that the book side is starting to mirror that.

Joe: Is store traffic increasing?

Krifka: Yes, overall. New York City has shown a slower recovery than elsewhere. But everywhere we’re seeing positive year-over-year growth week after week. We’re also comparing to two years ago and seeing positive trends even against pre-COVID sales levels.

Sherin: It’s the same with our products. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide has grown dramatically. Comparing to 2019, we’re through the roof.

Krifka: Yes, we’re seeing nice growth in Home and Garden. And we’re seeing a switch from digital back to physical. Our customer likes the experience of print copies.

Bo: Are you seeing an influence from Book Tok?

Krifka: Anything that does well on Book Tok sells like crazy in our stores.

Bo: It’s at almost ten billion views.

Krifka: And they’re the right age group, young adults turning into loyal customers. Manga, for example, is huge, and we’ve got a great assortment. Outrageous food trends are big.

Joe: How are things developing in the magazine world?

Krifka: We’re not seeing a lot of surprises. Customers are following their former patterns, buying what we’d expect them to buy. There aren’t many new launches or big things pending. I’m seeing some missed opportunities. We should have seen some publications on outer space, that could have been big. Post-COVID, they’ll be a lot of people struggling to get back into new routines; where’s the product for that?

Publishers need to dig in, to ask, what are people going to need from us, what are they going to use? People are moving back into schedules. Hotel bookings are up, people are moving around more; we need to see those publications for drives, for traveling. There are holes in our assortments, and we need fresh, new, relevant product. I can get the customers back into the store, I can get the magazines out on the shelves, but if I don’t have exciting new product sales are not going to improve.

Link to the rest at What’s New in Publishing

8 Memoirs of Women Hiking in the Wilderness

From Electric Lit:

The history of women hiking in nature is almost non-existent. Instead, Cheryl Strayed is widely believed to be the first woman to boldly walk day after day in remote, unpeopled landscapes. This is a terrible misconception.

Five years ago, exasperated by the male dominance of walking and nature writing, I began researching women walkers of the past for my latest book Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women. It seemed to me that while women had made great progress in public, urban life, the myth of Male Wilderness was harder to shift. The wilds endured as a place for well-heeled white men to prove their masculinity.

But women have always walked. And not merely to carry water and firewood. Like men, women hiked for pleasure, solitude, creativity, and catharsis. During the 19th-century, numerous women hiked solo over mountains and across plains, beside rivers and through forests. Many of them published accounts of their walks—gripping memoirs that have languished in archives or been entirely forgotten.

. . . .

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews

The first nonfiction book to excavate lost women walker-writers of the past and return them to the literary stage. Andrews spent over a decade researching women from as far back as the 18th-century in a scholarly bid to prove that women have always hiked in wild landscapes. From Elizabeth Carter to Dorothy Wordsworth to Cheryl Strayed, Andrews argues for a re-evaluation of the genre now known as literature of the leg.

A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time by Antonia Malchik

A Walking Life is a series of meanders through the many facets of walking. Malchik is one of the empathetic few to write about walking while attending to those who cannot walk. She makes a compelling case for better public transport, for greater access to wild landscapes, and for more power to the pedestrian, while lambasting the highways that have gobbled up vast tracts of American wilderness. For Malchik walking is a political act—and as someone who grew up car-less, I lapped up her impassioned prose.  

. . . .

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

The Living Mountain is quite possibly the most remarkable account of hill-walking ever written. The Scottish poet and novelist, Nan Shepherd, recounts a life spent walking in the Scottish highlands. Her prose is now considered some of the best “nature-writing” ever penned, as Shepherd shows us how to walk into the heart of a mountain using all of our senses. This slim volume was out of print for decades but is now lauded as a masterpiece.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Barangrill

Three waitresses all wearing
Black diamond earrings
Talking about zombies
and Singapore slings
No trouble in their faces
Not one anxious voice
None of the crazy you get
From too much choice

. . . .

Well some say it’s in service
They say “humble makes pure”
You’re hoping it’s near Folly
‘Cause you’re headed that way for sure
And you just have to laugh
‘Cause it’s all so crazy
Her mind’s on her boyfriend
And eggs over easy

You Just Can’t See Him from The Road

“Ridin’ Fences” refers to the requirement to continually check the condition of the fences that keep the cattle from wandering off on ranches in the American West.

Ranching has long been a business with narrow margins. If a few or many cattle get out of the often very-large fenced-in pasture, they may never be found again because there’s so much empty space for them to get lost and so many opportunities for predators, both animal and human, to make them disappear forever.

Losing or not losing a handful of cattle may be the difference between a narrow profit or a large annual loss for the rancher.

In the United States, a lot has been written about rural poverty in Appalachia, throughout the South, etc. However, there’s plenty of poverty in the rural American West. It’s just harder to find because the empty spaces are so large in many parts of the West. You can’t see the poverty from the road.

As examples, Wyoming has six people per square mile and Montana has seven people per square mile. Each of these states has cities where the population density is much higher on a square-mile basis, so rural population density is much smaller.

Looking at rural counties, Loving County, Texas, had a population of 64 and a population density of .095 people per square mile in 2020. The only community in Loving County is its county seat, Mentone, Texas, which had a population of 15 in 2000 and 19 in 2010.

Mentone consists of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a school building which has been closed since the 1970’s. The reason for the school closure was that student enrollment had fallen to two students.

Loving County, population 64, covers an area larger than the City of Houston, Texas, the fourth most-populous city in the United States.

The City of Houston has a population of a population of 2.3 million residents. The Houston metro area has a population of over 7 million. The only larger US cities are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Once you get out of Mentone, you can drive a long way without seeing another human being.

16 Tons

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, coal mines were often located in isolated low-income rural areas. Working in the coal mine was often the only local source of any sort of decent living.

It was not unusual for the mine owners to build company towns near the mines. The coal company owned everything in these company towns. Houses of varying quality (none very large) were rented to the coal miners with the rent being deducted from wages.

Often the only retailer in these mining towns was a general store owned by the coal company – “The Company Store.” Coal miners and their families could shop at the company store on credit, with the amount due to the Company Store deducted from wages.

Since it was the only store in town, whatever the Company Store charged for food and other necessities was what the miners and their wives bought. (Coal mining was dirty. Most work involved long hours of heavy physical labor in the mine where it was pitch-dark and the miners worked by lantern light and a small headlamp that consumed lantern oil. All the miners were men.

Women were also involved in heavy physical labor, including hand-washing clothing that was filthy from mine dust, caring for children who often had no established place to play, and stretching basic ingredients to feed a family until the next paycheck.

For the many mines located in Appalachia, unions would not be an option only much, much later, if ever.

Ploughing

A growing day, and a waking field,
And a furrow straight and long,
A golden sun and a lifting breeze,
And we follow with a song.
Sons of the soil are we,
Lads of the field and flock,
Turning our sods, asking no odds,
Where is a life so free?
Facing the dawn, brain ruling brawn,
Lords of our lands we‟ll be.


A guiding thought, and a skillful hand,
And a plant’s young leaf unfurled,
A summer’s sun and summer’s rain,
And we harvest for the world.
Sons of the soil are we,
Men of the coming years,
Turning our sods, asking no odds,
Where is a life so free?
Facing the dawn, brain ruling brawn,
Lords of our lands we’ll be.

4-H Guidebook

Joe Hill

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Joe Hill, also called Joe Hillstrom, original name Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, [was a] Swedish-born American songwriter and organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); his execution for an alleged robbery-murder made him a martyr and folk hero in the radical American labour movement.

Born into a conservative Lutheran family, all of whom were amateur musicians, Hill left Sweden for the United States in 1902. He drifted around the country, from job to job, and in 1910 joined the San Pedro (California) local of the Industrial Workers of the World, soon becoming its secretary. The following year his first and most famous folksong, “The Preacher and the Slave,” appeared in the IWW’s Little Red Song Book. It is sung to the melody of “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”:

You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray, live on hay,

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Most of his songs dealt with migratory workers, immigrant sweatshop workers, and railway employees; and all were tinged with humour and simple Marxism.

In January 1914, while staying with friends in Salt Lake City, Hill was arrested and charged with the murder of a grocer and his son who had been killed during a robbery. The trial that followed was very confusing. The prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence and depended almost entirely on the fact that Hill had gone to a doctor to be treated for a gunshot wound several hours after the murders had occurred. Hill claimed that he had received the wound in a quarrel over a woman, whom he refused to identify in the interest of protecting her honour. The jury found him guilty, and the numerous legal appeals made on Hill’s behalf were unavailing. Despite mass demonstrations and accusations that he had been convicted because of his radicalism and despite an appeal to the Utah governor from Pres. Woodrow Wilson, Hill was executed by a firing squad. On November 18, 1915, the night before his death, he telegraphed IWW leader Big Bill Haywood: “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize.”

Hill was commemorated in a famous ballad bearing his name, written in 1925 by poet Alfred Hays.

Link to the rest at Encyclopedia Britannica

Labor Day

Today, Friday, is the unofficial beginning of Labor Day weekend in the United States. Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September and is commonly regarded as the last big weekend of the summer. In cooler parts of the US, it’s often the last weekend to use a mountain cabin or a boat.

More than a few people wherever PG has lived have either taken Friday off or disappeared after lunch on Friday in order to extend their weekend. As 5:00 pm approaches, most large office buildings in many major US cities are pretty much abandoned. City busses and commuter trains are almost empty. Traffic to wherever the favorite local weekend destinations are is heavy.

PG will devote most of this long weekend to paeans to working men and women. In particular, people who perform hard manual labor.

Unions began forming in the US in the 1880’s as a response to the Industrial Revolution. The American Federation of Labor, a loose coalition of local unions, was founded in 1886 and led by Samuel Gompers until his death in 1924.

Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) became law. This is a foundational statute of United States labor law that guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.

This law replaced much weaker prior legislative guarantees of the rights of workers and was designed to correct the “inequality of bargaining power” between employers and employees by promoting collective bargaining between trade unions and employers. The law established the National Labor Relations Board to prosecute violations of labor law and to oversee the process by which employees decide whether to be represented by a labor organization. It also established various rules concerning collective bargaining and defined a series of banned unfair labor practices, including interference with the formation or organization of labor unions by employers. 

The 1947 Taft–Hartley Act amended the NLRA, and was passed in response to a series of massive post-war labor strikes in 1945 and 1946. Taft-Hartley weakened union power by establishing a series of mandatory labor practices for unions and granting states the power to pass right-to-work laws.

A right-to-work law gives workers the right to choose whether or not to join a labor union their workplace. It also gives workers the option to not pay union dues or other fees whether or not they are in the union. One of the rationales behind this legislation was that it protected the freedom of association or non-association of workers and their freedom to choose not to become subject to a labor union contract with their employer. Since labor unions are free to make political contributions to support candidates or causes, a right-to-work law also protects an employee from having to contribute to a political candidate or cause the employee opposes.

Right to work laws were passed by state legislatures throughout the American South, a North/South strip of states in the Midwest and also in several Mountain West states. Texas and Florida, two states which have enjoyed large increases in their populations during the last fifty years, are right-to-work states.

California has the highest number of unionized workers and New York has the second highest number. Hawaii has the highest percentage of unionized workers, almost 24% and New York has the second-highest percentage with 22%. North Carolina and South Carolina have the lowest percentage of unionized workers.

Public Sector Unions – unions comprised of federal, state and local government employees – have become much larger and more powerful in the United States within the last 50 years. At present, there are more public sector union members than there are private sector union members. Slightly less than 1/3 of federal employees are unionized. 35% of state workers are unionized as are 46% of local government workers.

As with private-sector unions, the rate of unionization of public sector workers varies greatly from state to state and from region to region.

Some people have strong opinions for and against unions. PG asks that commenters remain civil while discussing all topics over this Labor Day weekend.

O. Henry: 101 Stories

From The Wall Street Journal:

Before he was known as O. Henry and the author of “The Gift of the Magi,” William Sidney Porter wrote another yarn about a husband and wife who miscommunicate. Instead of trading Christmas presents in a touching tale of self-sacrifice, they exchange “some hard words” over breakfast. A little later, they regret their remarks and seek to make peace. When they meet again, however, they fire off a new round of accusations—painful to them in their fictional world but amusing to readers who recognize a comic mixture of spite and affection in a marriage.

Porter never published this piece of apprentice work from about 1895, titled “The Return of the Songster.” It has languished in an archive at the University of Virginia, and it might be there still (or never archived at all) except for the fact that, under the name of O. Henry, Porter went on to master a form of the short story that featured a surprising conclusion. “The Return of the Songster” is now collected, along with two other previously unprinted pieces, in “101 Stories,” the Library of America’s comprehensive edition of this popular writer’s work, edited by Ben Yagoda. The book’s appearance in this distinguished series provides fresh evidence that, despite occasional skepticism from critics and scholars, O. Henry has secured a place in the country’s literary pantheon.

Born in North Carolina in 1862, Porter worked as a pharmacist, ranch cook and land-office clerk. In Texas, he took a job as a bank teller but fled to Honduras in 1896 following an accusation of embezzlement. He returned to the U.S. after a few months to care for the ailing wife he had left behind. It didn’t go well: She died, and he was sentenced to a federal prison in Ohio.

Behind bars for three years, Porter took up his pen name, published from the penitentiary and started his decadelong run of success. After his release in 1901, he moved to Manhattan and contributed to newspapers and magazines, scribbling under deadline pressure as he invented stories about ordinary people in his adopted city.

If he had written only “The Gift of the Magi,” which appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York Sunday World in 1905, he’d still be read today. Although cynics may sneer at what they consider the aesthetic equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie, this 2,000-word celebration of unconditional love and holiday spirit remains one of the most beloved tales in American literature.

Yet O. Henry was more than a one-hit wonder, and a handful of his stories continue to appeal. “The Last Leaf” begins with a deathbed scene and ends with a message about the power of art. “The Cop and the Anthem” involves a vagrant who tries but fails to get arrested. “After Twenty Years” chronicles a reunion of friends who have fallen out of contact. Each features an agreeable jolt in its final sentence or paragraph. Harvard professor Hyder E. Rollins described the effect in 1914: “Children play ‘crack-the-whip,’ not for the fun of the long preliminary run, but for the excitement of the final sharp twist that throws them off their feet.” The pen name “O. Henry,” in fact, may be read as an exclamation of delight.

Although his characters are usually forgettable and his plots often turn on coincidence, O. Henry compensated for these weaknesses with several strengths. One is deadpan humor: “My salary as bookkeeper in the hardware concern kept at a distance those ills attendant upon superfluous wealth.” Another is a playfulness with words, such as “jagerfonteins” (a reference to diamond-like eyes, borrowed from the name of a South African mining town) and “philoprogenitiveness” (a tendency to produce offspring). When O. Henry wanted a colorful way to label a Central American nation, he came up with a term that has entered our vocabulary: “banana republic.”

He could also render the details of ordinary life in evocative prose. In “The Furnished Room,” one of his better stories, he depicted the dimly lighted steps of a low-rent boarding house: “It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Nomadland

PG doesn’t know if stories like Nomadland will resonate with visitors from outside the United States or not.

During the past several decades, there has been a significant population movement away from small cities and small towns, often in the middle of the country, an area some have called, “flyover country” given that flights from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again pass over this middle area without stopping.

The detailed results of the 2020 US Census started being released in the second quarter of 2021. They showed the second-lowest total ten-year growth rate ever recorded in the US. (The lowest growth decade was during the Great Depression in the late 1920’s-30’s.)

37 states grew more slowly during the 2010-2020 period than they did in the prior ten-years and three states lost population. California had its lowest growth rate ever due largely to the state’s high cost-of-living and state taxes. Some large and medium-sized California employers have also moved parts of their operations to lower-cost states. States like West Virginia, Illinois and Michigan lost population.

Within states and regions, there has also been a notable migration away from rural and small-town locations to medium and large-sized cities. This trend has hit rural areas in several middle-western states hard.

During the Covid shut-down, some smaller and different patterns appeared. A few individuals, usually mid-level office employees and some professionals, learned that remote work was possible and enjoyable and moved from expensive coastal cities and suburbs into small town and rural settings, expecting to have to go into the offices much less frequently or not at all.

This out-migration has not been nearly large enough to counter-balance the longer-term flattening of population growth in the more empty places, particularly empty places that don’t feature oceans, mountains, forests, etc. Aging populations with low birth rates have also impacted growth in some areas.

Texas, Florida, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona have grown substantially faster than the average.

Nomadland is a 2020 motion picture set in the empty places of the United States. As the PBS documentary in the second video window depicts, more than a few middle and lower-income families who suffered from Covid-related job losses have left their homes, hit the road and adopted a new lifestyle, often located in those empty places.